Sunlight streaming through the morning fog. Courtesy Leon Kauffman.
Jesus and the Roman Centurion
By Jon Kauffman
Some Christians feel that because Jesus did not rebuke the Roman Centurion for military service, then Jesus is condoning military service.
The Faith of the Centurion
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Matthew 8:5-13 NIV
In the story, Jesus does not specifically mention the centurion’s career. We do not know that Jesus did not discuss his career with him also. The point of the story is the centurion’s faith. This story comes immediately after the ‘Sermon on the Mount” in chapters Matthew 5-7 where Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love our enemies.
Jews felt the Romans were their enemies. The Romans were brutally violent and evil. Seeing rebelling Jews on crosses around the country was a common sight. Later, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Barabbas who was freed was a rebel against Rome and many Jews agreed with him. A Jew joining the Roman military would have been considered a traitor. Most of those among the Jews following Jesus would not have considered joining the Roman military. Far more startling to Matthew’s audience was the fact that Jesus would offer healing, salvation, and forgiveness to an enemy and a gentile.
Jesus healing a servant of a Roman soldier was a striking contrast to the disciple’s desire to see Jesus overthrow the Romans. One of Jesus’ disciples was a zealot. Simon the Zealot. Zealots were a group of Jews who promoted armed rebellion against Roman rule. Perhaps Matthew felt that discussing how the centurion’s career built on violence contradicted the teaching of Jesus was unnecessary.
Perhaps if we follow Jesus’ example with the Roman centurion, we will heal our relationships with our enemies and make friends with soldiers from ISIS and Boko Haram?
Imagine if an American missionary with the gift of healing went to Iraq. Suppose an Isis leader came to the missionary and asked the missionary to pray for healing for his friend. Suppose the Isis leader had heard the missionary preaching. Suppose the Isis leader demonstrated his faith in Jesus in a similar manor as the Centurion demonstrated his faith. Suppose the missionary did pray for the Isis leader’s friend and his friend was healed. The missionary would no more be condoning the Isis leaders career than Jesus was condoning the Centurion’s career. Such a situation would show a Christian following Jesus’ command to love our enemies.
Later in the book of Matthew, in Chapter 24, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and violence resulting from the rebellion of the Jews. In 70 AD this destruction occurred. Those who followed the advice of Jesus fled and survived. Those who participated in the rebellion died. One source says a million Jews died in this destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus saw Roman soldiers killing and abusing his fellow Jews, friends and relatives all his life. He knew he would soon die on a cross at the hand of Roman soldiers. He knew Roman soldiers would soon kill his people, the rebelling Jews in Jerusalem.
Perhaps this story verifies that Jesus loved his enemies with a wild, reckless, healing, forgiving love. He even healed the friend of his enemy the Roman soldier!
It seems to me that it takes a great leap of logic to believe that the healing of an enemy’s servant by Jesus would in any way justify us killing our own enemies today.
Suggesting that because Jesus healed his enemy’s servant means that Christians should join the military is like suggesting that when a Muslim terrorist becomes a Christian, that means we should join the terrorists in fighting the United States.
Maybe Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant was similar in 2001 to an American doctor giving Osama Bin Laden a dialysis machine a few months after 9/11?
Reasons why other Christians participate in violence: Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate
Jason Potterfield has written an excellent post about the Centurion on “EnemyLove”.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
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Picture: Copyright © 2019 by Leon Kauffman